Summary and book reviews of The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree

by Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh X
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure.

Having drawn comparisons to Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa, The Fever Tree is a page-turner of the very first order.

In London she was caged by society.

In South Africa, she is dangerously free.

Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her father's sudden death, has been forced to abandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and emigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1880 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men?one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness.

But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences.

The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure. But above all it is a love story about how - just when we need it most - fear can blind us to the truth. 

Chapter 1

The first indication that her father was unwell had come in June.

Frances woke in the night and stared into the dark, listening. The house held its silence for a moment, then exhaled in a murmur of low voices which drifted up from the landing below.

She drew a shawl from her bed and pushed open the door.

"Lotta?" she called down. Quiet for a second, then the creaking seesaw of Lotta's weight on the stairs, and the bobbing light of a candle. A billow of white nightgown, and the maid's broad, placid face swam into view.

"It's your father, Miss. He's back but he's not been himself." She pressed past Frances into the bedroom.

"How do you mean?"

Lotta bent to light the candle by the bed, her chest expanding and contracting like bellows, the flame flickering as she breathed.

"What's wrong with him?" Frances demanded, grabbing at her wrist.

Hot wax spilt over their hands and Lotta drew back, wincing in pain. "I don't...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Early in the novel, Frances looks into the Wardian case in her uncle's house and sees the ferns pressed against the glass "as though appealing for escape." She realizes that "the glass case offered protection—the ferns wouldn't last a minute exposed to the pollution of London air—but it would also, eventually, suffocate them." What is the significance of this image?

  2. In the first chapter, Edwin Matthews admits that he has never liked domesticated plants. He describes Mr. Irvine's roses as "monstrosities—deviations from their true form in nature." Frances reminds him of this conversation in a climactic scene toward the end of the novel when she compares herself to her father's domesticated roses, unable...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

McVeigh’s The Fever Tree is entrancing and provocative. It is a beautiful character drama and an insightful historical representation. This novel is not to be missed.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review (925 words).

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Media Reviews

O, The Oprah Magazine
Though the book is a page-turner of the ‘who will she choose?’ variety right until the end, the most fascinating strand of the story is Frances, and her struggles to come to terms with her new ideas about society, marriage, family and love.

USA Today
McVeigh captures how greed and racism blinded whites to the savage mistreatment of the black Africans being robbed of their land and its wealth. History has rarely been more vividly presented.

Financial Times
The Fever Tree is a skilled unfolding of a woman's struggle with desire, class divide, and disease in 19th Century South Africa... [T]he journey, like the landscape, is thrillingly huge: one of love, self-knowledge, human and political self-respect. Frances treads out every step - a naive and intriguing character who brings alive a momentous, and appalling, part of history.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
The subterfuges and instability of the diamond industry are engrossing, but it is McVeigh's attention to the material culture of South Africa that really fascinates: No object is too small to attract her notice, and through accumulation such objects become evocative and strangely moving ... The Fever Tree is well worth reading.

Vogue (UK)
A magical, bewitching tale of loss, betrayal and love.

Publishers Weekly
McVeigh's distinctive first novel is a lush, sweeping tale of willful self-deception… the sensory detail and sweep of the novel are exquisite, particularly for a debut.

Kirkus Reviews
Forceful and direct, yet surprisingly lyrical, McVeigh's narrative weaves top-notch research and true passion for the material with a well-conceived plot. Readers might argue that the ending's a bit weak when compared to the boldness of the rest of the story, but that's a minor issue. Overall, this story's a gem.

Booklist
With its cinematic descriptions and compulsively readable plotline, this debut novel may well become a book-club favorite. . . . With its social-justice angle; exotic, ruggedly beautiful location; and universal theme of emotional growth, this will have wide appeal.

Author Blurb Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey
There is nothing more exciting than a new writer with a genuine voice. I loved it.

Author Blurb Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Lake of Dreams
The Fever Tree is vividly written, and moves so fluidly from Victorian drawing rooms to the wild, spare plains and brutal diamond mines of South Africa; place and people come alive in this book. When Frances Irvine, naive and sheltered, is forced to emigrate and make a new life, she encounters both beauty and searing injustices, and ultimately, she's forced to confront herself, as well. A gripping story - I found myself thinking of scenes from this book long after I had turned the last page.

Author Blurb Hillary Jordon, author of Mudbound
An orphaned young gentlewoman, a shipboard romance en route to a strange and perilous land, a forced marriage to an enigmatic stranger ... The Fever Tree serves up all the delicious elements of a romantic classic, seasoned by evocative prose and keen moral commentary. Gobble it up and then shelve it next to the Brontë sisters.

Reader Reviews

Diane S.

Fever Tree
Set in the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign, this is the story of Francis a young woman ill equipped to handle the circumstances in which she finds herself. I actually found this part of the story rather cliched, and although I had some sympathy...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Kimberly, South Africa and its Diamond Industry

The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley changed the course of South African history. Prior to this find, South Africa was a colonial outpost that was sparsely populated by Europeans and native tribes.

The Dutch East India Company established a colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 with the purpose of resupplying Company ships. Initially they had no interest in developing the hinterland but found that they needed to increase food supplies so released some of the Dutch farmers, known as Boers, from their contracts allowing them to set up farms which would supply the colony and ships. By 1806, when Dutch colonial power gave way to British control, the Boers had established control over large tracts of land but, being fiercely independent ...

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